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A Tasty Guide to Noodles, From Soba to Spaghetti

People have been making and eating noodles for thousands of years. It’s a tradition so old, it’s hard to document exactly where and when it began; early examples have been found in China and Syria, and by the Middle Ages, pasta was a popular dish in Europe. Since their origination, noodles have traveled across the world and evolved into many shapes and sizes. Here are just a few.

Soba

Chopsticks holdings up soba noodles from a bowl with broth.
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Soba are traditional Japanese buckwheat noodles, eaten hot or cold depending on the season, with a variety of broths, pickles, mushrooms, fish, and other toppings. These thin noodles originated in Japan about 400 years ago; today, handmade soba are considered an art form.

Fensi

Fensi, also known as cellophane or glass noodles, are clear noodles made from starch. In China, they’re usually made from mung bean or sweet potato starch, and served in soups, spring rolls, and stir-fried dishes. Variations of this noodle are prepared all over Asia, including India, where they’re known as faloosi and served with ice cream.

Guay Tiew Naam

A plate of pad see ew.
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Guay tiew naam are Thai wide rice noodles, best known in America for their use in pad see ew or “drunken noodles.” They are also used in soups with pork. Guay tiew naam are great canvases for sauce and have a unique, chewy yet melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Garaetteok

Garaetteok are long, thick rice noodles from Korea. They blur the line between noodles and dumplings because of their size and density, and are sometimes called “rice cakes.” Garaetteok can be fried crispy, but are more often steamed and served in spicy, saucy dishes like tteokbokki, which can also include fish, hard-boiled eggs, and scallions.

Ramen

A bowl of spicy ramen and red chopsticks.
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Ramen is associated with Japanese cuisine, often served in soup, or dashi, but the noodles themselves are an import from China. Made from wheat treated with a dilute lye solution — which adds a springy texture — ramen noodles arrived in Japan in the early 20th century with a wave of Chinese immigration. The noodles were not widely known as “ramen” until instant ramen was introduced in 1958.

Nokedli

A bowl of Hungarian Chicken Paprikash and Nokedli.
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Nokedli are a Hungarian egg noodle similar to German spaetzle. A bit like tiny dumplings, they are often served as a buttery side or with saucy meats. They are an ancestor of the American egg noodles served with dishes such as chicken paprikash.

Su Filindeu

Su filindeu, or the “threads of God,” is a Sardinian noodle known as the rarest pasta in the world. The pasta is made by stretching dough into 256 strands thinner than angel hair, using a technique that has been passed down through the women of one family for 300 years. Boiled in mutton broth and topped with pecorino cheese, the finished dish is served only twice a year to Catholic pilgrims who have completed a 20.5-mile hike through Sardinia’s mountainous interior.

Avemarie

A pot of avemarie pasta and chickpeas in sauce.
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Avemarie, or Hail Mary pasta, is a short, cylindrical pasta from Italy. It's often used in soup like minestrone. Its name comes from an era before kitchen timers: The noodles cook to perfection in the time it takes to recite one Hail Mary prayer.

Spaghetti

Spaghetti and meatballs in a bowl with basil.
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"Spaghetti" comes from the Italian word spago, which means “twine" or “string.” While the long pasta may seem inseparable from red sauce nowadays, tomatoes are an indigenous American food and were not widely eaten in Italy until the 19th century; before tomato sauce, spaghetti was simply served with oil, butter, and herbs. The large meatballs that often appear alongside spaghetti are a distinctly Italian American creation. When 20th-century Italian immigrants discovered that meat was somewhat inexpensive in America, they treated themselves to larger portions of their typical “polpettes” from back home.

Featured image credit: Macarena Moraga/ Unsplash

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